The Garden Spells shoot was definitely a labor of love – emphasis on both the ‘labor’ and the ‘love’. This is something that I’ve dreamed of doing for years, well before I started working as a Wedding Coordinator. I always loved helping couples plan décor and realize their vision but up until now my role had mainly been offering suggestions and inspiration, and then receiving a jumble of items on the big day and being told to ‘make it pretty’. I developed some great Wedding MacGyver skills over the years – give me a tablecloth, a pop-up tent and some binder clips and I can rig you a pretty sweet photo booth – but this was the first time that I was able to really let my creative side run wild.
I posted a poll asking readers to vote for a book for me to create a styled shoot around, but I had already started crafting the details for Garden Spells in my head. I had a very clear vision right from that first inspiration board, made up of disparate pictures I had culled from wedding blogs over time. The board and the rich details in Sarah’s book coalesced into a few finite points that I built the rest of the shoot around: a dining table set with a rich cerulean linen, frosted glass, bone china, and silver filled with glowing flowers; a wooden estate table with a ribbon runner for set with delicate desserts; and a three tier cake with cascading sugared violets. Now I had to go about turning those ideas into reality.
Most styled shoots that you see in magazines or blogs are a collaboration between a number of vendors: usually a planner or designer, a florist, baker, and photographer. While I have a number of close contacts in the event industry, I felt apprehensive about contacting these professionals for my little side project. I decided to try doing it all myself, with my limited hands-on knowledge and my rapidly dwindling bank account. I am so grateful for the support and encouragement of my friends and family who could so easily have just said, ‘girl, you crazy’ and told me to keep craigslist hunting.
First things first, as with any wedding,I needed to pick the venue and the date. I wanted a garden, not overly manicured or structured, to fit the Waverly’s magical garden. I browsed local wedding venues but again, I had very little name recognition and no money, so I was hesitant to contact anyone. Through it all my best friend offered her parents’ garden, which would have been ideal except that it is literally located in the middle of nowhere. I had already discovered that delivery fees on the rentals would have been astronomical so I kept it on the back burner.
The rentals quickly became the center of my dilemma – I could get flowers from a wholesaler no problem, I was doing all of the baking myself, and Marshall’s & HomeGoods provided the majority of the little touches that I needed, but tables, chairs, and place settings were a whole other ballgame. I browsed the rental catalogues of several local rental companies and settled on Hartmann Studios, a company I had worked with a number of times when I was coordinating. They have a great selection but they’re used to working with large volumes and unfortunately, they were the furthest away.
I had to rapidly start reevaluating – their china, linen, and chairs were the closest to my vision but how the hell was I going to get everything I needed 100 miles south for the shoot? The estate table posed the biggest problem – there was no way I was going to get that to the garden for under $200. Luckily they don’t call me the Bridal MacGyver for nothing – other nicknames include the Bride Whisperer and Zeus, but those are stories for another time – I needed to get creative with what I had at hand. What I had was a lovely cherry Queen Anne desk that has removable legs. I rented the linens, china, flatware, glassware, chairs, and silver teapots from Hartmann and arranged to pick it all up in my Honda Civic the day before the shoot. I would pack it all in on top of my dismantled desk and make it work.
Now that I had the date and location, I could get started on the details. The color of the linen became the center of my design – I wanted to echo the Cerulean shade in the stationary and ribbon runner, and picked complimentary colors of warm pink, pearl, and silver. I envisioned a long oval bowl for the centerpiece, overflowing with flowers and vines, with clustered silver and glass vases accented by frosted votives. I am nothing if not persistent and multiple trips to Ross, HomeGoods, and Michael’s turned up exactly what I wanted – and a lot more besides.
Table décor and rentals taken care of, I turned to the baked goods. Food plays a central part of the story and I knew that I wanted my dessert table to have meaning. The three tier wedding cake was the centerpiece, so I picked my favorite French almond cake and made huge amounts of buttercream. The violets posed a problem, however. Violets are in season in early spring and I was already inching into September. Pre-made candied violets aren’t exactly easy to find in San Jose, either. It was either time to reevaluate my plans or get creative. I chose the latter.
A trip to Beverly’s Fabrics turned up silk violets and craft glue. I spent an evening dipping fake flowers in watered glue and sifting sugar over them, while hand crafted Sculpey letters baked in the oven. I glued the letters to a sheet of moss to echo the message left in the garden in the book. I measured and cut four sets of ribbons for the runner and bought glue dots to keep them anchored on the table. I wrapped books in tissue and wrapping paper for risers and used a stain pen to turn balsa wood Christmas decorations into frames for my escort cards and dessert signs. This project was slowly taking over my apartment and my life.
Everything took an unexpected turn when I received a stealth job offer days before the shoot was scheduled to take place. They wanted me to start right away so I had to juggle diving right into a new job with my plans. This was all exacerbated by frequent calls to Hartmann to confirm the rentals – I hadn’t heard from them in days and everything was hinging on the items from them. Ever one to have back up plans on top of back up plans, I had already started sourcing out other china and planned to rig one of my curtains into a linen. I finally got a hold of someone at Hartmann two days before the shoot – they ‘hadn’t heard from me’ so they had cancelled the order. WHAT?! I had left multiple voicemails and emails over the past three days – I had even apologized for bothering them so much. They rushed the order for me, but I am still baffled as to what happened. I spent roughly 10 hours a day learning CaterPro and Country Club etiquette then came home at night to craft and bake and try to keep my cat away from the drying violets.
The rest of the desserts came next – apple tarts were a must so I baked them in ruffled silicon molds I’d bought ages ago and hadn’t had a chance to use yet. I actually don’t like apple pie (I know, I know) so these were my first attempt. I even made the crust by hand, because I am nothing if not dedicated, damn it. I went to three different grocery stores to find crystallized ginger, ginger powder, and rose water for the Rose Ginger Cupcakes because one must not disappoint Martha. I even asked the boy to get me extra almond paste for the French almond cake since I was doing a triple batch, but ended up scrapping the elaborate cake for an almond flavored white cake a the last minute. I’m sorry, Travis – I owe you a real almond cake and a lot of kisses.
Justine and I rolled up to her parent’s house with cars loaded with dahlias, astilbe, and love-in-a-mist, pounds of baked goods, and a lot of carefully tetrised-in rentals. She deserves all the Best Friend thanks in the world for putting up with me running around like a mad woman screaming ‘I have a vision’ and making her re-do the flower arrangements like three times. Her parents graciously let me raid their garden – I found the garden roses that our wholesaler hadn’t had and some really gorgeous dahlias, along with some greenery for filler. She also mixed up the glaze for the Rose Ginger cupcakes which didn’t set quite like Martha’s and tasted good but overly rosey. We ended up using some of the leftover buttercream and the roses I had candied the night before.
Overall I was thrilled with the final outcome. This was the culmination of a long term dream of mine and was worth every ounce of sweat and every exhausted night. It made me realize that this is the career I want and that it is worth it to work towards. Every post on this blog, every inspiration board I make for one of you, is a step closer to realizing that dream. Thank you for reading, thank you for reblogging, thank you for messaging me with comments or requests. This blog would not exist without you all and I wouldn’t have had my dream come true without you.
Thank you to Justine, the Wiley family, and to Travis. Thank you most of all to Sarah Addison Allen. Thank you for posting a board I did on a whim, for promoting me to your wonderful readers who asked for more, and for giving me the push I needed to stop reblogging and actually create. I could not have done this without you.